With motorbikes and blood bags these volunteers save lives
When speed can literally save lives, this group of bikers come into their own.
The volunteers take turns on call, ready to deliver blood products to hospitals as quickly as possible.
A group of friends with a passion for bikes formed the group back in August 2020 – wanting to combine their love of the road and helping the country's health service. The group counts among its number office workers, a police officer and a driving instructor, all giving up their time to help transport vital supplies.
"What motivates us is the fact that we can ride a few hundred kilometers on a motorbike without a goal, but if we are also useful, that's something else. We really like riding our bikes, even in the coldest weather we prefer to ride rather than drive. That's why we took on this challenge," Budapest volunteer Peter Egresi told CGTN Europe.
The blood products they transport are used in all kinds of procedures from transfusions in babies to treating victims of car accidents. Each day volunteers are rostered for 24-hour shifts waiting for their phone to ring. A call from the blood centre sees them race to pick up blood products and take them wherever they're needed, using lights and sirens in an emergency. Previously blood bank employees transported products in cars, but the blood bikes have added extra manpower and improved delivery times. Weaving through traffic can more than halve the time it would take to travel across Budapest during peak hours.
What started as five volunteers with a few bikes has grown to 22 volunteers at two bases in Budapest and Debrecen, using nine specially equipped motorbikes and three cars. In the first year they covered 183,000 kilometers and responded to 650 call outs. The peak of the third COVID-19 wave saw an increased demand as other supply options became more limited.
"At the peak of the COVID epidemic, in the spring of 2021, that's when we drove the most. There was a month when this one car alone covered 17,000 km. We drove a lot of plasma," Zsolt Sarvari, a co-founder of the group explained.
The Debrecen base in eastern Hungary only recently began operating and Sarvari says it shows the need for more bases across the country. The group hope to one day have five bases to line up with Hungary's five blood centers – but to keep their operations running they're reliant on donations and government grants. While the volunteers give up their time, tires, fuel and other running costs add up to more than $60,000 a year and are likely to keep growing with demand. That demand is expected to increase particularly as wide-spread COVID-19 hospitalizations continue.